For a glimpse into family life among England’s upper class in the twentieth century, Greys Court is the place to go. Whether you choose a long walk in the garden or a tour of the house when it is open, Greys is a lovely place to visit.
Since 1066, five families have lived in this beautiful Tudor home. Its most recent inhabitants were the Brunner family who moved to the house in the 1930s. The house was gifted to the National Trust in 1969 but Lady Brunner lived their until her death in 2003.
Lady Brunner, born Elizabeth Irving, was the last matriarch to live here with her husband and their brood of four boys. She was an actress who gave up the stage to raise her family and the house is filled with nods to her theatrical past. Greys Court is much as the Brunners left it, and it is easy to imagine children running through the halls. You can almost hear the echoes of a door slam as the children run out into the vast gardens to play. Most of the rooms have been dressed so that it looks like the inhabitants have simply stepped away and might return at any moment.
At the time of writing, COVID-19 restrictions mean that you cannot visit inside the house, however the grounds, gardens and Tea Room are open.
Set in the beautiful Oxfordshire countryside, Greys Court is located at Rotherfield Greys near Henley-on-Thames. Of all the National Trust Properties I have ever visited, this house is the one that feels most like a home. There is an air of cosy family familiarity throughout, and it feels like the inhabitants may have simply wandered away for a moment. It will be lovely to be able to go though the house again when restrictions are lifted.
Lady Brunner’s study still has a 1970’s era television set in it, and there are stuffed toys that belonged to her now grown-up grandchildren on the window seats. The light filled library is filled with shelf after shelf well-thumbed books.
The most beautiful room may be the drawing room, redesigned in 1765 by Sir Thomas Stapleton for his bride. Bow windows offer stunning views over the gardens, and plasterwork roses, courting doves, bows and arrows on the walls suggest the theme of romantic love. Even here there is the illusion of a room hastily abandoned, with sheet music is scattered by the piano, and a tea cup sitting just above the keyboard.
The dining room, schoolroom and study give further glimpses into the family’s life, and Lord and Lady Brunner’s bedrooms offer a peek into the more personal world of a couple who were clearly devoted to one another.
The huge family style kitchen on the ground floor appears quite modern at first; a vast Aga oven, pink kitchen table and chairs and fabric encircled sinks hark back to the mid twentieth century, but impressive wooden dressers and recycled medieval panelling remind you that this kitchen’s history goes back hundreds of years beyond that.
Lady Brunner was chairman of the National Federation of Women’s Institutes and it is said that in the summer and autumn the delicious aroma of fruit being simmered down into jam wafted up from the kitchen all through the house.
The Gardens at Greys Court
There are acres of walks at Greys Court and the gardens are not to be missed. Depending on the time of year you visit, you may see billows of cherry blossoms hanging off the trees, drifts of daffodils or a myriad of hyacinths blooming in the borders, their scent heavy in the afternoon sunshine. You can walk for hours in the fields surrounding the house and the views over the Chilterns are stunning.
Greys has a rose garden, a cherry garden and an orchard, as well as a prolific kitchen garden. However, my favourite part of the gardens is the Wisteria Walk.
If you are lucky enough to visit in Wisteria season (usually about May) you are definitely in for a treat. The glorious, scented sea of purple is everywhere. Some of the plants date back to the Victorian Era.
As you walk through the paths in the garden, the Wisteria seems to surround you.
Visiting Greys Court
A place you will want to return to again and again, Greys Court definitely fulfils Lady Brunner’s hope that it would be “…a haven of peace and quietness for those in need…”, where “families can rest for a moment together, away for the pressures of present-day living.” We need those kind of places more than ever these days and I look forward to visiting Greys Court again soon.
At time of writing, tickets to visit the grounds at Greys must be pre-booked. Please see the National Trust website for more details.